African leaders’ empty slogans - Monocolumn | Monocle


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11 February 2010

Three years into Tony Blair’s first term as British prime minister, his Labour party unveiled a slogan that they hoped would encapsulate the work they had done already and the magnitude of the challenges ahead. “A Lot Done, A Lot Still To Do” was not the most exciting of political slogans but it helped them win a second term in office.

Things happen at a slower pace in Uganda. The country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, is now in his 25th year in power. But that hasn’t stopped him brushing off Labour’s 2000 slogan as he prepares for fresh elections next year. Museveni’s version is “So Much Done, So Much To Do”, which is at least an improvement on the slogan his supporters chanted at the last election in 2006: “No Change!” It is also an indication that Museveni’s re-election, unlike in previous years, is not a done deal.

African leaders “never needed slogans in the past,” says Tom Wolf, a Nairobi-based political analyst. “That they do now is another indication that elections are becoming more regular and more unpredictable.”

While Museveni has plumbed for a variation on “more of the same”, a traditional slogan for ruling parties, his counterpart in Côte d’Ivoire has shunned such orthodoxy. Despite being president since 2000, Laurent Gbagbo, has peppered his manifesto for next month’s election – the first since the end of the country’s civil war in 2007 – with “time for a change”. He will hope that voters don’t take him at his word.

Many of the slogans are the brainchild of western advisers. At Kenya’s election in 2007 the incumbent Mwai Kibaki brought in a team of British experts who devised the slogan “Kazi iendelee”, or “Let the Work Continue”, (similar to another Labour slogan, “The Work Goes On”). Kibaki’s opponent, Raila Odinga, responded by calling on the services of Dick Morris, the disgraced former adviser to Bill Clinton. Morris didn’t get a chance to create a catchy slogan – the Kibaki government threw him out of the country for failing to have a work permit.

One president unlikely to turn to the West for help is Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. Since he took power in a coup in 1989 his years in office have been marked by a succession of civil wars, including a conflict with the south which cost an estimated two million lives and a war in the western region of Darfur which resulted in Bashir himself being charged with 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Bashir, though, is unrepentant. Forced to hold elections this April for the first time since seizing power, the incumbent’s slogan is “Freedom, Development, Peace”. If anyone doubts his commitment to peace, Bashir hopes they will be persuaded by his use of a white dove as his campaign symbol.

Bashir and his white dove are favourites to win an election, which international observers have already warned is unlikely to be free or fair. But his main opponents, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, have taken inspiration from Barack Obama in creating their own slogan which they hope will rally supporters to their cause: “New Sudan, Yes We Can!”


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